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Analyzing the Spurs’ individual shooting numbers

Which players are the best in iso, post-ups, and spot up shooting?

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Portland Trail Blazers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

With the season nearing the halfway point, we have been able to gather more information on how individual players have been shooting the ball for the Spurs. One thing you will notice in particular is that Gregg Popovich doesn’t really allow the team to settle into a role of taking a particular type of shot. The team constantly moves the ball, though they aren’t entirely the 2014 tiki-taka team when understanding when and where to make the next best pass. But Pop also has forced players to change their playing styles, assume different positions, and contribute in new ways.

Below is a graph showcasing how San Antonio players have performed when shooting in iso, comparing the number of possessions per game they receive this look and the points gained per possession (PPP). I used PPP, compared to simple FG% or even eFG% because it factors in free throws (fouls drawn in these situations) and turnovers to get a better picture of efficiency. Another note, to qualify for this data set, a player needed to have played in 10 games this year and have at least 10 isolation possessions under their belt. I have included the top 10 leaders in possessions per game for comparison. The red, blue, and green lines mark the 20th, 50th, and 80th percentiles respectively for each axis. (Note: data is from before Jan. 10’s games.)

Again, the easiest thing to notice is that Popovich doesn’t want his guys playing iso ball, even with perennial talent like Victor Wembanyama. Most teams often let the game fall to the hands of their stars and see how they are able to transform the game. This method has worked when the team is also surrounded by the right role players, just look at former MVPs Joel Embiid, James Harden, and Kevin Durant. And it is continuing to be effective with new-age stars like Luka Doncic, Jason Tatum, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

Wembanyama is the only Spur that currently gets more than one isolation scoring possession a game (which is average of the players who qualified). Devin Vassell receives the next most looks which is still just 0.8 times a game. We can still find some positives out of their limited possessions. Neither Vassell or Tre Jones has turned the ball over once while in iso, and Zach Collins’ high PPP is driven by his ability to get to the line on 26.7% of his possessions.

Wembanyama is underperforming in both eFG% and his ability to draw fouls, but I think his sheer height makes it difficult to sell foul calls, especially when smaller defenders are bouncing off of him when he goes up. While Jeremy Sochan seems to be the worst pure scorer for the Spurs in isolation with 32.4 eFG%, Keldon Johnson has the worst turnover rate at 12.5%.

Next is a graph following the same principles but for a player’s metrics when posting up.

In any era, talented big men have to be able to bang in the post. This isn’t a trait reserved for 90s all-stars like Shaq, Olajuwon, Ewing, and the Admiral. Even notorious passing bigs like Nikola Jokic and Alpheren Sengun frequently post up on the block. We can make all the arguments that Wemby is one of a kind but for now, let’s look at other bigs who stretch the floor, like Karl Anthony-Towns and Kristaps Porzingis. They are on championship-contending teams and are able to contribute at very high levels in the post with KAT averaging 1.23 PPP and Porzingis 1.47. Wemby is on pace to receive the right amount of reps, meaning without a minutes restriction, he would be floating closer to these other stars. But his production at this level is slightly concerning. He turns the ball over on 23.3% of his possessions and his eFG% is below average as well. Aside from Porzingis, he can effectively draw fouls better than these other leading bigs when backing down, getting to the line on 20.7% of his plays.

Collins’ PPP is largely due to fewer turnovers and a higher field goal percentage. Posting up isn’t really in either Johnson or Sochan’s bag as it amounts to less than 5% of all of their total possessions, but big-body Johnson is decently effective in the paint.

Lastly, let’s look at a similarly constructed graph but for spot-up scoring. You will notice that the possession leaders for this category aren’t your typical stars, but the role players who usually get the most minutes.

Eric Gordon, most notably one of the best catch-and-shoot role players still playing today, continues to stand out in terms of efficiency. Coby White has stepped up in Chicago’s backcourt with the absence of Lonzo Ball, and now they have Zach Lavine to keep them afloat. And Jerami Grant has become more of a go-to scoring option in Portland, with Damian Lillard’s departure. I expected Cedi Osman and Doug McDermott to be shooting above average in this category given that is their playing style, and Devin Vassell impressed me even more. All three of them have just above 55 eFG% putting them in the top quartile just based on accuracy.

Tre Jones is shooting 48% on all shots but continues to struggle from deep, making just 24.2% of his threes, which is even lower than last year. But similar to their iso play, Jones and Vassell do have extremely low turnover rates. Malaki Branham along with Osman and McDermott all struggle to draw fouls with their spot-up shooting, granted most of these shots they are attempting are when they are getting clean looks. After Vassell, Johnson and Julian Champagnie are the next best at getting to the line and are also able to rack up some and-1 calls.

The standout here is of course Wemby’s performance. He makes 0.9 per 3.1 attempts per game in spot-up shooting, with an eFG of just 37%. On top of that, he also turns the ball over on 12.2% of his possessions. Spot-ups account for 17% of his total possessions which is significant enough to where it needs addressing. We know he can move well off-ball and have seen some phenomenal connections now with Tre Jones as the starting point guard. However, the game plan will entirely affect how he will develop. If Pop would just let him simply let him go to work on offense, Wemby would have to learn how to improve his efficiency in isolation and post-ups to compete against more traditional bigs. For comparison, Chet Holmgren is also struggling in the post, but he is rarely ever placed there. And he excels in spot-up shooting as the Thunder have SGA as their primary option who can then bounce it to Chet.

It seems the Spurs are in limbo on whether to let Wemby play as a star would or to provide him with solid playmakers who can get him the ball in productive spots. The Detroit game was a good example of both, as he both acted as a point center at times but was also a recipient of plenty of passes down low. As he and his teammates get more comfortable with each other, we should see improvement.